Swiper, No Swiping: How Online Dating Apps Create Romance by Devaluing Love
Sound the alarms! The millennials are coming! I’ve seen too many articles about the various institutions and industries being annihilated by my generation.1 Mashable’s list2 of 70 things millennials have allegedly killed in USA ranges from crude “breastaurants” like Hooters3 to golf4 to homeownership.5 They hold us responsible for so much of the latest social, economic, and political disruption that it has become something of a decent joke among writers. The Onion facetiously reported that American millennials are disillusioned with “walking the earth altogether,” instead exploring “more viable alternatives.”6 Canada’s The Beaverton took the joke a step further: “Millennials are killing the Millennial-Killing industry,” apparently, by refusing to participate in the current leisure hunting of people by age 22-37.7
So I’ve always rolled my eyes at the surplus8 of articles9 claiming we’ve also begun to kill sex,10 romance,11 and marriage12; put it all together – and you’ll be a footstep away from accusing us of murdering love. But now that I’m in the technically-adult casual world of the university campus, my eyes are unrolling, slowly returning to the front of my head. In this world, the majority of people do use applications for dating, and the Internet is the #1 venue for first dates among singles13 (according to the dating app statistics). And that made me wonder what is dating like today, how it has changed with the rise of Tinder, Bumble and their ilk.
What Happened to Romance due to Online Dating Apps?
Perhaps I’m too much of a Luddite, but the large-scale substitution of live dating app for serendipitous meetings is alarming. They suck the soul, or at least part of the soul, out of traditional dating.
I’ll argue, though, that instead of killing romance, the soul-sucking is one way dating apps create it. What they’re killing is not romance but love. Yet, what is romance and what is love, you might inquire quite sarcastically, where is that thin red line that cuts one off another? Here’s how I draw a
distinction between the two: romance is the little cousin of love. Whereas love tends to be long-term and involves such notions as “for better or for worse” (I’m not necessarily talking about marriage here), a romance can begin and end in one date. And whereas love requires what poet Bell Hooks calls “the will to extend one’s self”14 for the sake of someone else (also known as sacrifice), romance (especially, technological romance we’re disputing here) is not a choice but an experiential feeling. Both are valuable, sure, and there is no doubt that love almost always involves romance, but it remains the case that romance is a kiddie pool to love’s ocean.
How Has Dating Changed Over Time
One of the effects of online dating applications (your Tinder, your Bumble) is that they reinvigorate a culture that already celebrates romance, rather than love, in every corner of life. I challenge any reader of this essay to name 5 movies they’ve recently seen wherein the hero didn’t “get the girl,” or some other version of the storyline wherein romance is just part of the plot. Besides pop culture, there are entire industries that offer indirect tools to help find romance. Ever have a gym membership? Buy a new wardrobe? People are encouraged to go to great lengths to increase our chances of becoming as desirable as possible.
Ok, Cupid and its compadres are no different. Just like a trip to the grocery store, you start off with a list of what you want. What genders and ages? Hookups, or something more long-term? Are you open to non-monogamy? Would you like to meet someone carefree or intense? Do you want to talk about politics? What if they have debt? The list goes on and on. The customer says exactly what they’d like to find in someone, the perfect criteria for what makes a person desirable. In the meanwhile, they are conscious that everyone else is doing the same thing for them. Human interactions (so routine during what is traditional dating) in dating apps are systematized, automatized, and put through algorithms in order to create calculated approximations of whom should hold hands with whom. Try asking someone in love if they can come up with reasons for their affection, and see if they can give you their own grocery list. They cannot! That is another distinction between love and the digital marketplace for romance.
Ultimately, this kind of service becomes another commodity, like new Adidas or toned biceps, that promises the consumer that it will make romance a more likely prospect. It removes the Todd McGowan.15 Love’s ability to sneak-attack is completely neutered by the practice of swiping, planning it out in advance. Love should, as McGowan says, “transcend any calculus,” and not be subject to a digital network.
Are the ‘Swipe Left or Right’ Dating Apps the New Black in Amour Experience?
Incidentally, it is the act of swiping itself that Tinder is celebrating with its new publication Swipe Life. On their site, the company publishes writers’ narratives about any of their ‘cast’ experiences, string of relationships, misadventures, and encounters sparked by the ‘swipe right’ gesture. Most of these [usually comedic] stories end with the writer single again, and ready to hit the screen in search of a new flame, which, I expect, will be extinguished just as quickly as the previous one. That’s how Tinder needs it to work; Swipe Life’s propaganda (a term I use here with a smirk) serves to make repeated romantic letdowns part of the fun and quirky nature of modern dating. Remember that next time when you get involved in a discussion on what is Swipe Culture.
Let’s face it: investing time and energy into dating apps is investing in the fantasy of a solution to one’s lack of the soulmate we’re promised. The commodity of the dating app is unique; I’ve never bought a toilet paper roll expecting it to be The One for me. But that’s what we do when we contribute to the profit of these sites. Released from love’s demanding and disruptive nature, we hope to find the fictional perfect match.
1 Technically, I am a post-millennial, but let’s ignore that. I believe I am exempted by my affinity towards avocado toast. I am also perfectly capable of functioning for a time period up to but not exceeding 5 minutes without my iPhone, so Generation Z has formally disowned me.
2 Bryan, Chloe, “RIP: Here are 70 things millennials have killed,” Mashable, 2017, bit.ly/2PLidiQ
3 Maze, Jonathan, “Hooters is Up for Sale,” Restaurant Business, 2018, bit.ly/2PKyR1T
4 Schlossenberg, Mallory, “Millennials are killing the golf industry,” Business Insider, 2016, read.bi/2GnYG8y
5 Steverman, Ben, “Young Americans Are Killing Marriage,” Bloomberg, 2017, bloom.bg/2nzM935
6 “Study Finds Fewer Millennials Want To Live,” The Onion, 2017, bit.ly/2CSrH5L
7 MacIntyre, Ian, “Millennials are killing the Millennial-Killing industry,” The Beaverton, 2017, bit.ly/2SZEOKz
8 Cumberledge, Heather, “The pursuit of romance in a loveless generation,” The State Press, 2017, bit.ly/2PHAVI5
9 Beaton, Caroline, “Why Millennials Are Failing to Shack Up,” Psychology Today, 2015, bit.ly/2CIUfXO
10 Julian, Kate, “Why Are Young People Having So Little Sex?”, The Atlantic, 2018, bit.ly/2DidbYy
11 Morby, Marisa, “Can Millennials Have Great Romantic Relationships?”, Huffington Post, 2017, bit.ly/2EDS702
12 Bleznak, Emma, “How Millennials Are Killing Off the Concept of Marriage,” Health & Fitness Cheat Sheet, 2018, bit.ly/2A3hULi
13 Bromwich, Jonah Engel, “Tinder and Bumble Are Hungry for Your Love,” The New York Times, 2018, nyti.ms/2QCkBh4
14 Hooks, Bell, All About Love, 2000
15 McGowan, Todd, Capitalism and Desire, 2016